VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
Salt Lake City: The SPICE Kitchen Heats Up
September 30, 2013 by The IRC
|“My passion lies in cooking and sharing true Burmese food with the Salt Lake City community,” says Haymar, who worked in a hotel kitchen in Thailand for 10 years after fleeing her home country. With support from the SPICE Kitchen, she hopes to open her own restaurant one day. Photos: Brian Smith/BPD Studios.|
Written by the IRC's Shannon Paz
Each month, refugees resettled by the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City, Utah, gather with locals in a test kitchen to try out recipes and prepare dishes for eager diners. The program, supported by the IRC in partnership with Salt Lake County, aims to provide participants with the skills to build successful food businesses.
Four years ago, a group of refugee women spoke with county officials of their desire to open small restaurants and shops. The IRC office joined the effort and, working together, the three parties created an initiative they named Supporting the Pursuit of Innovative Culinary Entrepreneurs Kitchen Incubator—better known as the SPICE Kitchen.
Today, IRC staff guide participants through the entrepreneurial process, from drafting a business plan to developing recipes and menus to obtaining small loans to launch their businesses.
One participant, Haymar, is no stranger to the food business. Forced to flee her native Myanmar, also known as Burma, she lived in Thailand and worked in a hotel kitchen for 10 years. She was resettled by the IRC in 2008 and, with training from the SPICE Kitchen, hopes to bring her culinary skills to the greater Salt Lake population.
Working two jobs, Haymar has a busy schedule, but any spare time she devotes to refining her menu. Her specialties are tamarind curry, pork cabbage salad and Thai spaghetti, dishes her husband and friends swear are better than any they’ve ever tried. Haymar remains humble, but determined. “My passion lies in cooking and sharing true Burmese food with the Salt Lake City community,” she says.
Beyond microenterprise training, the SPICE Kitchen helps refugees deepen their ties with the local community. Some 50,000 refugees live in the Salt Lake City area (population 3.5 million), and sharing their diverse culinary tastes and expertise is one way they contribute to the cultural fabric.
With additional support, the IRC and our local partners plan to expand the SPICE program to a commercial space with enough room for the community to gather, cook together, and share their recipes and skills.
Says Natalie El-Diery, development manager at the IRC’s Salt Lake City office, “We're excited to be part of the growing food culture in Salt Lake City and it’s been amazing to witness the progress of our participants. By building their confidence and teaching them skills to develop food businesses, we believe they will be able to make a living doing something they love to do.”
Learn more about how you can support the SPICE Kitchen Incubator.
New Roots in America
Each year, the IRC helps thousands of refugees who have been granted sanctuary in the United States to rebuild their lives. An essential part of our broader resettlement efforts, the New Roots program enables refugees to reestablish their ties to the land, celebrate their heritage and nourish themselves and their neighbors by planting strong roots—literally—in their new communities.